No Strings Attached
By Hilary Kraus
Photography by Christian Lee
Aija Silina takes a different approach when chronicling her life. While most of us typically mark time through major events—marriage, parenthood, relocating—Aija chooses to describe her journey through her “reinventions.” And the Hilton Head resident has become a maestro in the art of changing.
There’s Aija the acclaimed classical violinist; Aija the student of orchestra management; Aija the realtor; Aija the skincare and makeup consultant; Ajia the competition director of the Youth Concerto Competition. . . and Aija the 43-year-old Hilton Head wife and mother, whose mind is overflowing with so many more ideas.
“I might have to reinvent myself again,” Aija (pronounced Eye-ah) said. “I think, ideally, what I’d like to see happen is maybe from time to time (perform) engagements somewhere up north where there’s more of an artistic pulse.”
Aija gravitated toward the arts early on. Born and raised in Riga, Latvia, before the breakup of the Soviet Union, Aija said she has played the violin as long as she can remember. “My mom told me when I was 2 years old, she caught me recognizing different songs on the radio,” Aija said.
One of four children, of parents who both hold doctorate degrees, Aija said the family didn’t grow up with money. “My parents used to joke that we were the poor intelligent. I’d rather be the intelligent and rich. I’m still working on that,” said Aija, whose quick wit comes out frequently.
With her advanced talent, along with the help of government subsidies, Aija was able to study violin at Latvia’s special high school for musically gifted students. She remembers that out of the 24 students in her class, 17 graduated, and not all of them were her original classmates. “Some of them went crazy because of the pressure,” Aija said. “They couldn’t keep up with their studies because they were pressed so hard to practice, practice, practice.”
Aija persevered and went on to study at the Musical Institute of Latvia. Within a year, she was recruited by a Southern Methodist University professor to play at a two-month summer festival in Dallas, performing chamber music, master classics and solo. It was 1990, the year before the breakup of the Soviet Union, and her ticket out from behind the Iron Curtain.
“At that time, I had read so many books about life in America and the wild west. I was fascinated; I was so obsessed. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, America,’ ”said Aija, who was 19 at the time. From there, she earned a scholarship and an Artist Diploma degree at SMU. She was later selected into a two-year program with the New York String Orchestra Seminar, playing with top young musicians at Carnegie Hall. Aija also performed with the Dallas Opera and the Fort Worth Symphony for seven years.
But at 26 years old, Aija described herself as “miserable.” She didn’t like living in Texas and was soured by orchestras’ environments. “It was time to reinvent myself,” she said.
So she and her husband (at the time) picked up and moved to Boston for his new job. Aija was welcomed into the Boston music community and eventually played with the Boston Pops, the Boston Opera, the Boston Classical Orchestra and the Boston Ballet.
Aija also started working in musical theater and traveled for a year with the Disney show “On the Record.” She also played in orchestras for “Les Miserables,” “The Producers,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Chicago,” and many other hit shows. “I learned during that time that my favorite thing to do is Broadway,” Aija said. “Through the 2000s, almost every week I had a different show. It was awesome.”
And, of course, there was Aija’s brush with the uber famous. She performed as a concertmistress with Luciano Pavarotti before 10,000 people at the Boston Garden. She also performed with Michael Tilson Thomas, Placido Domingo and contemporary musicians Mary J. Blige, Harry Connick, Jr., and Jay-Z, to name a few. “She’s amazing. She’ll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up,” said Kim Falls, a friend who has heard Aija play classical music. “There’s so much she can do.”
Since her New England days—which also included a stop in Portland, Maine, and southern New Hampshire—Aija has added more chapters to her ever-changing life. Personally, she married again and gave birth to a daughter at age 39. The family moved to Hilton Head nearly two years ago because of her husband’s job. Professionally, Aija got a real estate license, but is not in the business here. Instead, she became a representative for Arbonne skincare and beauty products, and most recently, was the competition director of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra annual Youth Concerto Competition.
As for her violin playing days? Aija said she’s “semi-retired,” but naturally, her personality does not allow her to rule out anything. She occasionally plays recitals, weddings and at informal gatherings. “I have mixed feelings,” Aija said. “I miss playing, but I don’t want to play in a symphony. Chamber music is where my heart is.”
Family: Husband Josh Foster and 3-year-old daughter Victoria. Father Imants Silinas, mother Biruta Silina, two sisters, one brother. All live in Latvia.
Favorite city in the U.S.: “San Francisco because of the culture, ocean, mountains and amazing food.”
Favorite musicians: Brahms, Debussy, Revel and Tchaikovsky.
What are you looking for next: “Something exciting, artistically.”
Concert hall with the best acoustics: “Carnegie Hall, for sure. However, nothing could match my experience standing in the balcony of the Riga Dome Cathedral, when I was 14, and performing with 15 other violinists. I could feel the whole balcony reverberate under the huge sound of one of Europe’s oldest organs. The foundation of that church was laid in 1211.”